BUILDING WITH THE BREATH OF LIFE - Tom Bender - revised draft text 8 Jan.1999



Physical accommodation of our activities is not enough to create a living community. A city can have the best conceivable design of green space, homes, neighborhoods, efficient transportation, and material and energy efficient construction. But that does not make it capable of moving our hearts. The vitality of being part of something exciting and meaningful has to come from other sources - settings that evoke fulfilling association, patterns of life and interaction which reflect our sense of our cosmos and nurture our dreams into becoming, institutions which embody and hold meaning for our lives.

It is our shared dreams and passions, our distinctive communal cultures and ways of life that give shape to our cities and give them the power to move our hearts and affect our lives. Cities, like buildings, have personalities and reflect the way of life of their makers. Efforts to improve the sustainability of our urban and cultural patterns have so far ignored this vital human component of enduring patterns.

Not unexpectedly, the cities that stand out in our memories are those tied to passions - our own or someone else's. Passions are things that build and focus energy - for an individual, and even more so for a group. A place we value is often one which has developed distinctive and unlikely character out of the quirks, enthusiasms, ardor or zeal, of some individual or group which shaped its nature and its destiny.

What distinguishes a community from a city is intimacy. A community arises when we share bonds of friendship, history, hardship, or caring. It arises when we open our hearts to share our inner longings, fears, and stories. It arises when we create places of safety where we can speak from the heart, develop compassion about other people's needs, and experience the joys of giving. It emerges when we join together our energies with common intention for good.

Privacy, for example, is a powerful value in today's cities, but is a two-edged sword. We seek it as escape from the irritation of strangers. Yet inside, our hearts yearn for the sound and connection of family and friends. When it is our children making noise, we're content - tuning but half an ear to track their energy and their comings and goings. Yet noise from a stranger creates irritation. When we allow neighbors to be friends or family to us, their noises are but lines in a play in which we, too are players, awaiting our cues, swept along by the interweaving webs of plot and passion. Village life may be too close, constraining an individual's need to change and grow. Today's urban life, on the other hand, gives little heed to the individual or to community.


Our modern cities have reflected our passions - but unfortunately only those of greed, mobility, and freedom from responsibility for our actions and for others. Our newly emerging energetic view of our cosmos gives rise to very different passions, new visions of community, and new form to our cities .

A deepening awareness of the energy basis of Creation, the interconnectedness of all life, and interconnectedness from material life to other dimensions of existence cannot but have profound effect on our communities. It represents a change in the intention of our lives and communities. It underlies a change away from cities for production and consumption of material goods toward communities based on satisfactions from interaction with other people and other life. It embodies change from "growth" to evolving; from human-centered to all-life centered realization of individual and interactive potentialities. It represents a central refocusing of our dreams and understanding.

Attention to energy fields in the earth has been part of the energetics of community in almost every culture. They were commonly used in China, in Japan, and elsewhere, in choosing sites for establishing new cities. Anomalies in earth energy do occur, or can be called into existence, on the scale of a community. It is an aspect to consider in founding a new city, expanding, or relocating an existing one - if and where large enough variation in earth energy occurs.

African, Aboriginal, and Native American traditions suggest a richer, finer-grained, and more complex connection with the energy of place in their communities. Joseph Rael, a Southern Ute and Picuris Pueblo Indian, talks of this in his BEING AND VIBRATION:

"As children we were taught that we existed as pressure point activators for the sacred sites within the village. Every twenty feet or so were consecrated points on the ground which carried special blessings. These shrines were buried in the ground and were only visible to the inner eye. As we walked through the village, we pushed them into aliveness with our bodies' pressure on them.... The holy shrines were placed there because the vibrational essence of those holy sites would enhance the psyche of community and of each individual within the community.

"...The energy was always shifting, was always different. The resonating vibrations in the sacred sites were always changing so that the people in the village were always alive with energy. These sacred spaces, generating life sustaining powers, maintained our integrity as a group, orienting each individual toward the community's highest ideals."1

Modification in the existing energy of a community's setting, however, can more frequently be an opportunity to affect the resultant chi. Washington DC and Rome, Italy were both originally unhealthy sites chosen for reasons of commerce, access, and politics. The draining, filling, and moving of the earth and waters, along with siting important facilities on the tops of hills rather than in the low-lying areas was vital to improving their energy and their health.

In other cities affected by dry fohn winds, the planting of trees and development of fountains, waterfalls, and other water features have been used to restore the negative-ion content of the air and lessen the psychological impacts of those wind conditions. Cities in Germany have examined the entire airshed of their cities. They have zoned building height and location and planted or cleared urban forests in order to gain or escape cool air drainage channels, modify climatic effects and temperature variation.

Tree planting for shading and cooling a city is widely done. With the scale of earth moving possible today, even creating gaps in landforms blocking air movement and causing inversion layers can potentially be accomplished. This can also be done as a way of "tuning" subtle energies of place - by digging ponds or lakes, placing large rocks, changing threatening landforms, etc.

Korea, and presumably other countries as well, once had a national "chi patrol" which traveled the country looking for good and bad patterns of energy, good places to site new cities and activities, and things which could be changed to benefit the overall chi energy of the country.
2 As noted in chapter four, the first Han emperor of China, Qin Shihuang, went to extraordinary measures to create positive chi for the country far into the future.

Modification of waterways - by damming or undamming rivers, modifying and restoring channels, or creating lakes and ponds - can change the effects of the water flow patterns on the lives of residents. Location and design of bridges - across water or joining opposing walls of a canyon - can change energy patterns in a community.

The location of temples, churches, shrines or other key elements of a city on "power spots", such as the Kiyomizu Shrine, many of the English cathedrals, or Hawaiian healing and birthing places can act to bring the benefits of that energy to all residents. A look at Chinese modification of landscape in and around cities can be instructive today. Careful location and construction of pagodas, bridges, large buildings has been used to improve the balance of natural features such as hills, rivers, lakes, or waterfalls. Creating a harmony between a city and its setting can deepen the power of self-image of the community and empower the lives of all members of the community. [China etching]

Inversely, understanding impacts of the energy fields in the earth can lead to tempering invasive actions used today for other purposes which have the unintended impact of changing environmental energy fields. Quarries, mines, or highway cuts can alter nearby energy flows. Pumping groundwater can deplete and alter water movement in the earth, affecting surface energy conditions as well as growth of trees and other vegetation.

Acknowledgment of the energy fields in the earth necessitates changed attitudes towards the microwave towers, TV and power stations, electric rail lines, and the entire high-amped pace of life of our cities as they affect and alter the energy fields we are connected to in the earth. Alternative means are available which have the additional beneficial effects of dramatically lowering our energy and resource consumption.

Perhaps most importantly, awareness of environmental energy fields can lead to modification of our ever more intensive energy pollution of our communities. Our cities and our bodies are saturated with radio and TV broadcasting waves, microwaves, infra-red emissions. Emf fields generated from electrical systems, transformers, trains, and other equipment are overwhelming.
3 Even the frantic pace of life in our communities may change as we rediscover the value of resonance and attunement.

The institutional web of a community is magnitudes more complex and interactive than that of a single home or business, and the attention needed to be paid to the chi of interaction equally greater. And the presence of a common dream or pursuit of the community plays a powerful role in marshaling that chi of community.

The health of all creation is strongly affected by our actions regarding our surroundings. The first, and probably most important element in securing that health is our intentionality. Changing our base values from greed, growth, and taking from others to working for the well-being of all Creation and allowing love and giving to be the basis of our interactions is more vital than any specific action we can take.

Aligning our community intentionality with that of all life brings the power of rightness and the love, support, power and knowledge of all Creation to our actions. It maintains individuality and individual purpose while remaining connected to the larger communities of which we are part. It brings synchronicity to our actions, and keeps our actions in alignment with our individual and community life purposes.

Merely changing our intention from maximum personal wealth and power to that of equity of wealth and opportunity within a community creates profound change in that community. Equity of wealth eliminates the need for many government assistance programs, and with them the stigmas and self-worth destroying effects of public housing, the bureaucratic morasses of welfare and public assistance, and much low self-esteem and resultant drug use and crime.

Equity in wealth means a change in the symbols of success - to actions benefiting the community. The traditional status of a person in India was not based on what they owned, but what they have been able to give to others. Removing the incentives of personal gain lessens the appeal of actions taking wealth from others and from nature. With more equity of opportunity, there is more incentive for students in schools, transforming their present nature. And on and on...... The role of potlatch, or giveaway, as a means of healing and balancing community energy in Pacific Northwest Native American communities is an interesting precedent to consider.

A second element in securing the health of all creation is limiting our needs: reducing our population and appetites to levels that can be sustained without damaging the health of other life. If our demands are too great, there is no possibility of even partly maintaining the health of other life. Along with that is finding ways to meet our needs and wants in ways which are sustainable and which have minimal impact on other life. The conventional elements of eco-cities - reducing need for transportation, using renewable energy sources, natural building methods, increasing durability, and reducing environmental impacts and pollution are all elements of attaining sustainability on the material level.

A third element in securing the health of all creation is our coming to enjoy and celebrate the specialness and differences between places and the life that composes them. Arni Fullerton's Winter Cities project in Canada a few years ago found that in all the tourism brochures produced in Canada there was only one picture of winter! So he got people together from winter cities around the world. Together, they showed that they constituted a real market for winter cars, winter clothes, and other products for winter living.

But more importantly, they figured out how to celebrate winter - with ice skating, an ice sculpture festival, skiing, snowmobiling and sled dog races reflecting a learning of what life in the winter means. Beginning to live in winter, they have begun to see what constitutes life in their region, to develop concern for it, and to discover what constitutes its health. It wasn't long before people in those communities changed into winter people - enjoying and looking forward to winter instead of just waiting impatiently for summer.


Part of places that touch our hearts are those distinctive qualities - climate, geology, history and community of inhabitants - that make a place different from others and which gives root to a special personality and spirit in its inhabitants. A culture arising in harmony with those conditions becomes uniquely robust and potent.

Isfahan, the 15th century capital of Persia, (now Iran) brought an unforgettable pattern of desert life into being through combining unusual elements of its traditions and conditions. Bringing ice-cold snowmelt water across the desert from the mountains through hand-dug underground channels, they were able to make gardens bloom in the desert. Their nomadic desert culture had little interest in or need for buildings, so the royal city became a collection of wonderful walled and protected gardens. [Isfahan]

Water chutes and irrigated trees brought coolness to the air. Water features brought the wonderful sense of welcome and respite from thirst so vital in the desert. Tents and pavilions in the gardens gave the only shelter needed. Vaulted street markets and bridges, and irrigated tree-shaded promenades brought shade and coolness to commercial activities and community gathering places. The "Paradise Gardens" of Isfahan leave an unforgettable impression of the beauty and power of life in a desert.

Nurture of place brings about the special power and beauty accreted from layer after layer of everyday acts caring for the health of other life with which we live. Amish villages and farm country show an indelible mark of their nurture of place. Irrigated paddy agriculture in Southeast Asia brings into existence an essential community of caring and responsibility, without which the entire agricultural system would quickly fall into ruin. That sense of caring quickly expands into the entire ecosystem and gives a special flavor to the entire region.

Nature in the city, wildness in our hearts can go far beyond conventional attempts to "bring nature into the city". Even "green" communities miss the true relationship with other life that is essential to healthful patterns. It is the same connectedness which is missed when we go "into the wilderness" with our freeze-dried meals, aluminum canoes, and high-tech camping gear. Existence of trees or "green spaces" does not represent a deeper relationship with the rest of nature. A community entirely without trees or greenery, like an adobe pueblo or stone Italian hill town, can be as much a part of nature as a bees' nest or termite mound. [adobe pueblo] [stone hill town]

What we truly seek, and need, from "nature" is not greenery, or even wilderness, but wildness. We think of wildness in terms of danger, but wildness does not mean either danger or lack of danger - it means unbrokenness. Unbroken in turn means seamlessness, or unity, and unity means oneness - with all. Wildness means to open, to let flow the generative power of our love, to let show without hesitation, our seamless intuitive interaction in the events of our world.

Wildness can be found only within us - by abandoning ways that separate us, break us, and keep us apart. Letting wildness flow within us, infusing it into our lives and our places, we come again into the unity with our world that we seek in vain in wilderness. Without that unity, there is little hope of our sensitivity to the health of other life.

Wildness means to be real.

Our minds, hearts, dreams and emotions are vital to the success of our cities. We often think of our cities in terms of their technical and material elements, such as streets and highways, hospitals, water, sewer, electrical and communication systems, building functions, and institutions. Yet how they stir our love and passion, affect our minds, give form to our dreams and evoke our emotions are vital elements in their power.

Our ability to bring into being powerful and unprecedented patterns and images through grasping new potentials of a setting is one element of that power. The Itsukushima Shrine in Japan, instead of being built on the land, was constructed on piling in the bay. Its red-orange buildings float on their reflections in the tidal water, as the festooned fishing boats arrive thorough the giant torii gateway framing the entrance of the bay for the annual blessing of the fishing fleet. [Itsukushima Shrine]

Or think of San Francisco, and the images of its bridges appearing and disappearing magically in the fog. Or Shrinigar in Kashmir, where the royalty of India created a fabulous summer retreat of gardens encircling the lake. Gardens cascade down the hillsides and float on reed mats on the lake. Communities of houseboats are connected by causeways, arched bridges, and boats floating on the mirrored surface of the lake. [shrinigar]

In the Gujerat area of northwestern India, the groundwater subsides dozens of feet into the ground in the months before the yearly monsoons. The local villages there developed a pattern of building "step-wells" of steps giving individuals access to the water far below the surface. In bracing the walls of these stone stairways, the villages evolved a wonderful pattern of shaded, cool carved stone platforms and alcoves which became the village's gathering place in the hot, dry months. [Adalej step wells]

The passions and driving force of single individuals like Baron Haussman in Paris, or Pierre L'Enfant in Washington DC have shaped the dominant nature of some wonderful cities. The architect Antonio Gaudi in Barcelona gave a unique flavor and sense of sacredness, mathematics, geometry and color to the community through his parks, apartment buildings, homes, and churches.

In Nikko, Japan, the funerary shrines of several of Japan's great shoguns or military rulers are intricately carved and gaudily lacquered, built through the coerced "contributions" of the Shoguns' underlords. But what is most striking and memorable about the shrines is their surroundings. They are approached through long graveled avenues set between stone walls in a deep forest of towering Japanese cedars, which contribute great power and contrast to the buildings themselves. The trees, however, were not there originally, but were planted by one of the lesser lords, who conceived of their planting either through a stroke of genius or as a clever way to avoid paying a burdensome monetary "contribution". [Nikko avenues]

What would Agra, India, be without the individual love and passions of Shah Jahan, the Taj Mahal built in memory of his wife, his own planned tomb on the other side of the river, and his palace structures in the Fort?

Yet an individual does not have to be rich or famous for their passions to give shape to a community. Simon Watts' wonderful whimsical towers in Los Angeles, made from broken pottery and used rebar, have given identity to a whole neighborhood. XXXX's underground gardens in Fresno, California have become a local wonder. The three foot thick stone walls of the Tassajara Zen Center's kitchen in California give silent testimony to the gentle persistence of faith against the unreasonableness of local building codes. A 40 mile loop walking trail around Portland, Oregon exists because of the vision and faith of a few individuals.

The citizens of the Czech capital of Prague had such a love of their community that they bribed the Germans not to destroy it in the Second World War. Prague had its share of beautiful monuments and historical structures, but the specialness of the city was in how its entire fabric had over the years become an expression of love for community. Over dozens of generations, the exterior of virtually every building in the city had been ornamented and enriched with sculpture, painting, and architectural decorative work - for the enjoyment of the entire community, not just the building's owners. A hodge-podge of styles, techniques, and treatments amassed over time, which sounds like a recipe for chaos. Together, however, their individuality is subsumed and melded into an overall richness with wonderful and unexpected details anywhere we look. [Prague]

Institutions can be the source and vehicle for expression of a community's passions. To most visitors, the governmental buildings of Washington, D.C. are secondary to the extraordinary collection of private and public museums that have congregated around the city's center. University towns like Oxford or Cambridge in England; Amherst or Cambridge in Massachusetts have imbued their communities with a sense of passion for academic learning. Other cities, like Jerusalem, are so prolific with institutions of various religions that the air is filled with prayers in many tongues and to many facets of the sacred.

It is hard to think of Spain without thinking of the rituals and passions of the bullfight and the mythological and archetypal patterns renewed and brought to life in us by those celebrations. Similarly, who can think of Indianapolis without thinking of car racing; of Milan with out thinking of opera; or of Rio or New Orleans without images of Mardi Gras? Whenever we come together in celebration - sacred or secular, we bring into focus a vortex of energy which renews both us and the place, and if well focused can bring healing or power to our endeavors.

An all too infrequent passion is the simple pleasure of a community enjoying life and itself. Getting off a train one night in a crowded station in Sendai, Japan, I was suddenly surrounded with the sounds of laughter, singing, and merriment instead of the sounds of frantic travelers nor mal to such places. I knew immediately, as it proved out, that this was a community worth getting to know.

Many towns and villages in Spain and in South America have an evening tradition of the "passerada", where people gather in outdoor cafes and in the squares and enjoy the spectacle of the young and old eyeing each other, making overtures, beginning and renewing friendships. Paris has its sidewalk cafes, the Champs Elysee, and similar promenades in other districts. Italian and Greek neighborhoods are filled with a continual banter of give and take among their residents. Venice at night echoes with the sound of operatic arias from passing gondola.

Cobenhaven, in Denmark, has created the famous Tivoli Gardens, filled with delight, music, song, and the sounds and smells of feasting, dancing, and merrymaking. The bar districts of Osaka, with their light reflecting in tiny canals; the riverside geisha district in Kyoto, the beer gardens in Germany devoted to family enjoyment - all reflect through different facets of culture and place the eternal rhythms of community enjoying life. Some are sordid, some are sad; some riotous, some just filled with the joy of life. All bring to light a part of the spectrum of pleasure and enjoyment that arises out of a community brought together celebrating life in its myriad forms.

Other passions in our communities have evolved out of unexpected twists of history. Rome's extravagant fountains, pouring forth music, beauty, and coolness at every corner, have their root in the ancient Roman celebration of its engineering genius. The Romans constructed aqueduct after aqueduct to bring water to the city and to feed its ever more extravagant public baths during the Empire. Over time, those same sources came to be tapped to feed celebrations of civic beauty competing sponsor, sculptor and architect against each other during the Renaissance.

Another important part of the power of great places, particularly urban ones, is the shape of a community livelihood which grew out of unique environmental, historical, cultural and technological conditions. Venice and Amsterdam both were centers of international ocean trade at a period when boats were the most effective way to move goods. Canal systems developed in both cities.

New England mill towns, in contrast, developed around the conversion of water into mechanical power to run manufacturing operations. In both cases, once other means developed to fuel the com mercial passions which brought them into being, the dams, millponds, canals, mills and workshops have been discovered to have qualities of their own which can contribute to the specialness of life in that place. They have become a free gift of the past to the life of the community today!

History lives in us. To walk a path in China worn down a dozen feet into the earth by forty centuries of footsteps, or along a road in India lined with the crumbling monuments of dynasty after dynasty can limit our dreams or give them added dimension, continuity, meaning, and direction. Much depends on the power of our own dreams, our own sense of self-worth, and our ability to take greatness as a limitless chalice with which to celebrate achievement and fulfillment, not as a measuring-stick by which we are measured by the standards of past times.

Time reveals its own magic. In places such as Rome, Paris, Jerusalem, Varanasi or Istanbul, the refinements, transformations, and creative power of thousands of years have interacted to create their special charm.

Even on the smallest scale, time and history have the power to affect our lives. A house on an island in Maine that has been in the same family for seven generations shows the mark of all those lives and years. In it we can feel the happiness and pain, and the care or neglect of each generation whispered to us out of every worn step and handrail, every coat of paint or wallpaper, every piece added, taken away or changed.

Boston, Philadelphia, or Charleston - like many of the great cities of all enduring cultures - are enriched, and enrich our lives in turn, though layering of the patterns and passions, dreams and failures of era upon era.

The respect our communities pay or breach they make with tradition; the honor they give to our ancestors; the kind of legacy they attempt to create for our descendants; the trees they plant to give shade to their grand children - all deepen or weaken the link we have with our past and future. Those links fuse us to the rest of our kinship of human and other life which together forms the stream which fills the banks of our river of community.

Harmony with our cosmology needs to be reflected in all our actions. The Palace of Versailles in France, and the military-inspired boulevards of Paris alike reflect the cosmology of the supreme power of an absolute monarch. The incredible water and temple systems of the Khmer capital of Angkor illustrate a very different cosmology and sense of the role of Kingship.

Similarly, the great cities of China and Mesoamerica have been built upon images of the cosmos, the nation, nature, and our place as part of it. This gave and continues to have the power to give, unique and potent meaning to the lives of their inhabitants.

At worst, what is expressed through the complex interaction of public and private, individual and group actions, can weaken our communities if at odds with our cosmology and beliefs. At best, it can powerfully strengthen the energy focused on our actions and dreams, and give coherence and meaning to our actions.

Our communities fulfill many functions. Utmost perhaps, is that of sustaining our will, marshaling our inner forces, and ensuring the continuance and evolvement of a community of life. That involves empowering an intricate web of the deepest and most survival-oriented instincts within each of us and within the communal body. Forgetting that primary function, and giving place instead to simplistic goals such as bigger freeways, better police protection, or greater corporate freedom from taxation, forfeits the endurance of our communities. Restoring that role requires opening ourselves to our deeper instincts, giving primacy to things of the heart, and giving our hearts to greatness rather than greed.

In knowing deeply any of the dimensions of community and its passions and connections, we come to love it, its place, and its crazy-quilt expression of our dreams and the possibilities of our time and place. Loving it, we come to hold it inviolate, which is the thread of sacred connection that embraces and underlies the unity of all creation.

There is more to life than TV and packaged breakfast cereal. And our communities have a vital role in connecting us with that deeper power of life. The sound of a city of temples like Kyoto, Luxor, Uxmal, or Mecca, with temple bells resounding, and prayers and songs of celebration filling the air can never be confused with the sound of a city solely of commerce.

Sacredness appears in our homes and in the nature of our neighborhoods. It appears in the power of special places and in the wholeness of sacred community. It appears in our every act when we live in a sacred way, and transforms those acts into expressions of the sacred nature of our universe.



We can see how the beliefs and passions of others have given special form and qualities to their communities. But how do we find passions for our own communities?

The Makah Indian Museum is located at Neah Bay in the extreme northwest corner of Washington's Olympic Peninsula. The museum con tained remarkable objects made by the tribal ancestors, preserved by a mudslide for over a hundred years.

Like most tribal lands, this was a poor one. The museum had re stored a vital sense of their history, achievements, and self-esteem. As well, it brought in outside tourist dollars and had seeded an empowering cycle of development. Most striking about the museum was the tone of a people young and old alike proudly sharing the achievements of their families and ancestors in contrast to the academic and institutional feeling of most museums.

It was obvious that other tribes on the peninsula were jealous and envious of their neighbors' good fortune. If even a small village with few resources, like Neah Bay, could empower itself, how could the same community passions and empowerment be brought to other villages? What about drumming, singing, dancing, storytelling, wood carving, boat ing, cooking, gardens, furniture making, or quilting? There are thousands of things about which people become passionate, which bring them a shared interest, and which once developed can attract the respect and interest of others.

Any community - large or small - can develop such passions. It takes only a few people excited about something, getting together to invite someone to teach a workshop, then developing their own skills, inviting other communities to festivals and competitions, and bringing together outstanding people with the same passion. Soon the community becomes known for that passion and it begins to shape their lives, their spirits, and the physical and emotional structure of their community. Port Townsend, Washington, is known now for its wooden boat building, and Pendleton, Washington for its Roundup. In the process the whole community becomes something unique and wonderful for others to visit, share and experience.

The town of La Patrie, in Quebec, Canada, when faced with the collapse of its timber industry through overcutting of its ancient forests, decided to use the remaining high quality, vertical grain timber to higher use. The community retrained itself to make guitars and other musical instruments that depended on that high quality wood, finding a new passion, new skills, and a new sense of self through a deeper connection to its resources. Towns such as K'san and Hazelton in northern British Columbia, Canada, have become known as the Cities of Totem Poles, through salvaging and re-erecting abandoned poles, and sponsoring and training new carvers in the skills and values of celebrating in wood their culture and traditions.

What our passions will latch onto depends upon who we and our neighbors are. But rest assured that once we loose our passions, something exciting will unfold.

Delving deeply into any interest gives us a sense for things well and thoroughly done. It makes us aware of how much more we can achieve and what we gain personally from everything we do. It becomes a touchstone in our own experience by which we can weigh the depth of understanding and rightness in talk or action on any subject.

Anything deeply delved into brings forth wisdom, weirdness, and wonders. All are worth aspiring to.

It feels good to be moved by the places where we live or visit. The power of those places evokes a similar will. It is a will - not to copy the dreams of others - but a will to self-esteem, to dreaming great dreams, and summoning the resolution to achieve them. Through such passions, we can transform our communities into something which draws forth and heightens the love of residents and visitors alike - in the physical fabric of the city, in the celebrations it supports and nurtures, and the way of life it empowers.

A community which has no passions, which does not enjoy itself, does not enjoy life. It has no great enthusiasms, and dreams only small dreams. Such a community has not learned the incredible drama of life of which we are part, and is not capable of creating sustaining bonds within itself, with its neighbors, and with the natural world in which it is embedded.

Notably, it has often been human-centered passions and failings, dreams and difficulties that have dominated the spirit of place of past cities which have moved our hearts. These passions have given those communities the power to arouse our feelings and our will to maintain, refine, and enrich them, and to ensure their life into the future. The cosmic visions of Giza, Angkor, or Chichen Itza suggest a whole new dimension which our dream can contain.

The emergence of a new energetic understanding of life opens new dimensions of this power. It expands our dreams to include sustainable patterns of living, the shared dreams of entire ecological communities and of all life, the greater dreams of a planetary consciousness, and passions which include new evolutionary paths for Creation rather than just the personal enjoyments of individuals and human communities.

We can live without material wealth, but not without love and meaning.

So make our communities places to love. That is the sustaining force of life. When we have communities we are passionate about, we will want them to endure and will assure the changes in infrastructure, land use, building practices and patterns of living essential to that survival.



There are many kinds of chi to be dealt with in improving our resonance with the world we inhabit. There is heavenly or cosmic chi - the influences from other places and dimensions of existence. There is earthly chi - the variations of natural energy in a physical setting. There is personal chi that we bring to our surroundings - our heritage, intentions, and dreams. And there is another kind of chi, community chi, which is often ignored when we focus solely on the energetics of our personal living and working places.

Community chi is the glue of culture - the result of values, beliefs, and energy reflected back to us from our human surroundings. It is the joy or fear we feel walking down a street at night or being approached by a lover or a stranger in the dark. It is the dread or excitement we feel as we enter a school, or hospital, or government building. It is the emptiness or fullness we feel as we leave a church, shrine, or temple. It is the shared meaningfulness or emptiness of our lives which we gain from our surroundings, communities, and culture. That in turn comes from whether and how they embody, both operationally and symbolically, a profound relationship with the rest of Creation and a role of value in our universe.

It is not only what our surroundings reflect but what they don't reflect which conveys to us our community chi, which creates resonance in our hearts, and which nurtures our personal and community health and energy. Those gaps and silences, those darknesses where nothing is reflected when something should be reflected, are possibly the most essential aspects of community chi to be dealt with if we are to create wholeness in our lives and society. Let's look at a few of the silences where changes can transform our lives:

CELEBRATE DEATH! Death is an essential part of the cycles of life. It is the gateway between the material and energetic planes of existence. It is the place where we often most deeply feel the bonds of connection with people and things that suddenly are no longer a part of our material world. And in a culture of growth and materialism where newness and youth are worshipped, it is feared, fought against, denied in all possible ways, and dealt with in frightening superficiality when it inevitably occurs.

Only when we acknowledge the wonder and value of death can we begin to see how we have shunned it in every aspects of our surroundings as well as our lives and culture. We begin to see then how to honor and celebrate it and bring greater richness to our lives and to the energy of our communities. We begin to design buildings which become richer and more mellow under the patina of time and aging. We begin to design gardens and landscapes that honor the full cycles of new fresh life, blossoming and fruiting, ripening, aging, death and rebirth.

Nurse logs become a symbol of new life emerging out of death. We incorporate the beauty of decay and transformation in our gardens. We begin to give proper prominence to hospices, funeral chapels, and other facilities dealing with death. We learn to create them as gateway structures - places where we can reflect, summate, say our farewells, grieve, and honor the losses, the gains, and both the living and the dead. We make place for the rituals of departure. [Nurselog]

We can also begin to create places which assist connection between our world and the spirit world - where we can connect with the wisdom of our ancestors and other life. We begin to acknowledge and honor the lives of the materials given up in the making of our places and our lives. In acknowledging the constant feeding upon and giving of life to other life through death, we begin to offer our own deaths in that spirit. Ending this one silence alone begins to transform our connection with all life and to bring our own lives into harmony with reality. [Turku chapel]

MEND PLACE-RAPE. We have also ignored the essential role of the energetic dimensions of place in its health as we have in that of people. We now are coming to know the indelible marks that rape, abuse, or destruction of self-esteem have on an individual. We have yet to acknowledge, however, that those same imprints are left on the physical and psychic bodies of places both human and ecological communities that have suffered pillage, rape, murder, or abandonment.

There is a similarity in the feeling of an abandoned New England mill town, a logged-out California hamlet in the redwoods, a fished-out Oregon coastal village, a corporatized Midwestern farm community, or a mined-out Appalachian town. The human population is left without source of livelihood; left with the debt and costs of infrastructure and mortgage payments on now valueless homes; left with injury, sickness, and hopelessness. There is the ravaged soil, forests, waters, and earth no longer able to support the needs of its community of life There is a sense of defeat, abandonment, grief, bewilderment. There is, as with an individual, massive damage on energetic levels to the psychic bodies of the individuals, the community, and the land. [Mpls photos]

The power to cleanse and restore wholeness to places comes in part through the healing of time. It comes in part through the renewal of faith of an individual, then a group, and then the community. It comes from tapping the infinite power of the earth to heal, which makes even its own grievous pains insignificant. It comes through actions of individuals to forgive, release, and set free the memory of those who caused the damage. It can come from the intentional action of a community to self-heal its energetic and physical body.

The auras or energy bodies of communities and places bring into being the same physical manifestations of health or illness as with individuals. They show the same kind of rupture, clogging, displacement and disconnection from their sources of energy that individual auras do from traumatic events. They can attract and have in residence the same negative spirits that an individual can have. Intentional healing can be performed on the chi of a place or community as well as an individual, to begin restoration of the energy source of the community well-being.

Individuals, a group, or preferably the community itself, can raise healing energy and feed it into the energy body of the community or the place. Rituals offering acknowledgment, release and healing to any unwanted spirits that have come to reside there can be performed. We can restore the ongoing cycles of ritual and celebration that generate and sustain the energy of a community and empower individual acts of healing. When their energetic roles are more deeply understood and acknowledged, existing rituals such as births, graduations, weddings, funerals and 4th of July parades can contribute much to community energetics.

We need at the same time to perform physical acts of healing - planting trees, restoring streams and wetlands, creating fish and wildlife habitat, removing sources of toxins and creating meaningful work and self-respecting lives for the members of the community. Any acts of caring and taking responsibility - from sweeping sidewalks to picking up trash and removing junked autos and equipment to painting, fixing up, planting flowers or just a song and a smile can begin the upbuilding process of healing. Avoiding institutional patterns and practices which exploit people, place and things is essential. It is important, though, that we attend to the re-empowerment of individuals and community and restoration of the health of their energy bodies as well as attention to the physical level of the community if we wish to attain lasting results.

MAKE THE SACRED VISIBLE. That act is vital to our social health and to the sustainability of culture and place. When we hold something sacred - in community - and make that sacredness visible in our public places, our whole culture comes to embody and reflect that dimension of life. Places - shrines - dedicated solely to the sacred provide a locus for individual and communal nurture, grounding, and harmonizing. They focus and accumulate chi in place so we can more easily bring our energy into resonance with it. They reinforce the sense of the sacred within us essential for it to be brought to imbue all of our public and shared institutions and places. [Shrinerock three]

Create shrines. Honor the sacredness of place, of other life, of all Creation, and of our dreams. Fill that absence in our communities with the presence of joy and celebration.

MAKE WORK SACRED. Work - and any action which employs and enhances our skills and joins them together with those of others to bring forth the wonderful gifts of joint action - is vital for the fellowship of community to develop and be sustained. When held sacred, work honors, joins, expands and enriches our own nature and that of the community of life.

In sacred work all serve and are served. None are servants. Its outward product in our community places becomes a celebration of the heights which our individual and joined capabilities can attain. It becomes an encouragement to others and an acknowledgment of a coming together and uplifting in concord. [Dome or stairs]

TRANSFORM OUR ROOT INTENTIONS TO ONES OF LOVING, GIVING, HONORING, AND NURTURING. Love and giving are the fundamental principles upon which any viable society or community is formed. Their absence, and even the lack of acknowledgment of their existence and importance are gnawing silences in our communities which clash with our root inner impulses. An intention to have community rather than an economy produces a different world.

The shaping and use of our surroundings from these intentions transforms what we are given by the places we inhabit, the nature of relationships we enter into within them, and the inner nature of the institutions and community we create. Out of that comes a shared song of resounding power and beauty which fundamentally transforms our lives.

HONOR OTHER LIFE. Our communities and their energy have spoken only of ourselves. The rest of Creation, their needs, their dreams, and the greater community we form together have been yet another void of silence in the places we live. We can give room for other life in our communities - for itself, not for our enjoyment or recreation. We can honor other life in our building. We can, like other cultures, live intimately with other life, open our souls to their special gifts and wisdom, and live intimately with those gifts through spirit totems, shrines, and other ways to manifest and connect with that energy. [Curtis raven door, door handle]

Open corridors for wildlife migration. Create room for the song of birds and insects, and the beauty of moonlight and shadows. Make places where other life is held sacred and our presence proscribed. Ask into our lives the wisdom and gifts of other forms of life. Limit our numbers and appetites. Celebrate and honor other life in the making and use of our places. [Malheur]

MAKE SPACE FOR NEW CREATION TO ARISE. These silences in our community energy are silences of purposeful omission. They are the silences of shunning and intentional ignoring of fundamental elements of a society which nurtures and supports life and shares in the evolution and creation of an ever more wonderful community of life. There is also an absence of silence, however, which is also a form of shunning. This is an absence of the silence out of which new creation emerges, awaiting behind the desperate staccato of our media-filled lives. It is the silence awaiting behind the fear that we will think a thought of our own if any gap appears in the endless barrage of stimulation impinging on our lives.

Allow silence. Breathe. Create stillness, emptiness, and openness. Make room out of which new creation can arise in our lives. Generate a soul in our places and our communities which provides the energy to feed new creation. There is a music to silence and a dance within stillness which is lacking in our lives and communities. And there is a depth and a wonder in the act of true creation it allows which brings incredible joy and meaning to our lives. [Zen basin]

Community is born and its energy nurtured through many, often subtle things. A coffee shop next to the post office where news passes, friendships lubricate, and new things spark into being. The percentage of people on the street that we know and care about. Song. Hardship and joy shared. Passage of life together. The examples above help us see the role which community chi that we put into a place plays in our lives and some of the voids and gaps in the energetics of our communities. Our actions, no matter how small, can have transformative impact on restoring wholeness and resonance to our communities.

38755 Reed Rd.
Nehalem OR 97131 USA
© 8 Jan. 1999

1 Rael, Joseph - BEING AND VIBRATION, Council Oak Books, 1993.


3 A working group of experts assembled by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in June, 1998, after reviewing hundreds of studies, recommended that these fields should now be regarded as a "possible human carcinogen."

4 Malidoma Somé's OF WATER AND THE SPIRIT gives an outstanding account, from the heart, of the role and value of community ritual. His RITUAL: Power, Healing and Community and THE HEALING WISDOM OF AFRICA go more extensively into the intellectual framework and specific examples of community ritual and how energy sustains a community. Starhawk's THE SPIRAL DANCE is an excellent resource on raising of energy through group ritual. Barbara Brennan's LIGHT EMERGING, Chapter 17 gives more energy-specific detail on group hara energy and techniques to enhance and build it. Denise Linn's SACRED SPACE, though focused on energy in a home, contains many things that work as well on a community level. Chapter 15 is on ghostbusting. Various feng shui books give rituals for release of ghosts or spirits or counteracting negative energies in a place.